Operating the board collaboratively, efficiently and securely
'Digitisation' and 'digitalisation' are two words that are frequently treated as synonyms, but in fact they have very different meanings. The former is quite rudimentary, converting physical data into the digital realm, whereas digitalisation goes multiple steps further by tackling the question of how to leverage digitisation to add value.
This is a critical distinction that underpins much of what was discussed in a recent webinar co-hosted by Business News Australia and board intelligence platform OnBoard titled 'Operating the board collaboratively, efficiently and securely'.
A plethora of digital tools have become available during the pandemic, but how do businesses distinguish which technological adoptions will bring about the greatest benefits? And what systematic changes must be made so that they are improving processes? Digitalising, not just digitising.
Australian boards have the opportunity to enhance performance in 2022 through the use of digital board systems, although a conscious effort must first be made to put governance in order.
The shift to digital meetings has come with its pros and cons over the past two years. Much ado is made of 'Zoom fatigue', but for Clear Sky Blue founder and managing director Tamara Barr it is a format that has levelled the playing field about 'who gets to talk', making dominant personalities more respectful towards the people in the tiles across their screens.
She noted at the same time it has helped show the human side of meeting participants during a time of isolation, where we get to look inside the lives of others - their dogs, cats, children, pot plants and so on.
The trend has also fast-tracked a move away from the physical printing of board packs, which she highlights is beneficial for the environment, although it is not always executed so well.
"Just because you have a digital platform that allows you to hold multitudes of data doesn't mean we should be augmenting packs from 300 to 700 pages," Barr explained in the webinar.
"What we want to see is a really good and well-designed executive summary - maybe one to four pages at the most - and if you really do need to add data at the back of that we can think about having a secondary appendix pack."
Get On Board Australia founder and managing director Lisa Cook highlighted common challenges for boards today include too much time being spent on operational issues versus topics that really matter, rushing through points, and unequal workload distribution.
"You have a small cohort of the board members carrying most of the weight of the board, you've got things like meeting papers being distributed too close to the meeting date, which leads to really inadequate preparation being done by the board members in the lead-up to that board meeting," she said.
"You can't take really clunky, inefficient analogue processes that you may be running in the real world and shove them into a digital solution and expect them to help increase your collaboration, your efficiency, your effectiveness."
She discussed how common it was for multiple edits to be made to a board pack such that in the meeting itself you have directors looking at different content on the same page; an issue that can be resolved through a unified, secure board intelligence platform.
OnBoard senior account executive Colin Panagakis highlighted his company's board intelligence solution includes encrypted messaging to avoid data sovereignty problems, the convenience of being device-agnostic so it can be easily accessed on a phone but with facial recognition for added security, and data-driven insights through engagement metrics.
The latter involves a dashboard where users can see which sections of board packs are actually read by their fellow directors, how much time is spent reading them, and where people are doing most of their annotations.
"It's about getting used to that dashboard style of running your business where you've got your graphs, you've got your KPIs (key performance indicators), and then you're measuring how they're all going," Panagakis said.
"We're allowing the committee or the board to dig deeper to understand what's going on with that respective agenda item and then be able to make this better for the board."
He added this data was all anonymised because there was "no need to name and shame" because most directors on a board will know who isn't reading the packs anyway.
"The idea is to lift their digital engagement and their digital understanding of things, and it's not that hard. When people just jump onto something and embrace it, they'll actually find their life a lot easier.
However, for some boards even the idea of board pack is still novel and different boards are at different stages of the digitalisation journey.
"I've actually spent some time in the UK and I was a little surprised when I came back to see how many people or companies had never even heard of a board pack portal," Barr said, clarifying there had however been rapid adoption recently.
Cook emphasised the digital transformation of boards involves bringing directors along for the journey rather than thrusting new technology upon them, starting with conversations and setting a clear framework about what capabilities they can achieve with digital tools and how they will operate under a new system.
She said this moment of digital transformation is also an opportune time for boards to assess their culture and what they want in the future.
"The chances are if you have a culture in the boardroom that's very conscious of technological advances...then that's going to filter down into the organisation," she said.
Cook added if a board member is resistant to using these kinds of tools, it is worth "finding a way that you can still utilise that person and kind of fit them in somehow while still ensuring that they are meeting their legal responsibilities".
"But I do find that kind of attitude may signal that this person perhaps has reached their expiration date, and may need to be moved to a committee if they are very valuable, or perhaps a different kind of role or relationship with the organisation if it's causing that much of a problem."
Panagakis advocates for a case-by-case approach when dealing with digitally-reluctant board members, perhaps printing a few board packs for those individuals whilst easing into the technology with an iPad or other tablet device.
These were just some of the topics touched on in the in-depth conversation with these experts. Click here If you would like to watch the webinar.